Depressed father jailed for killing 2-year-old daughter, tried to commit suicide

Depressed father jailed for killing 2-year-old daughter, tried to commit suicide

File photo of Supreme Court
The entrance of the Supreme Court in Singapore.

SINGAPORE: Clinically depressed and with a divorce looming over his head, a man killed his two-year-old daughter, wanting to take her with him in death.

The 36-year-old man, who cannot be named due to a gag order imposed by the court, was sentenced on Wednesday (Jul 29) to six years' jail.

He had originally been charged with murder, but pleaded guilty to a downgraded charge of culpable homicide. He admitted to causing the death of his daughter by suffocating her with a pillow on Jun 16 last year.

The court heard that the man, an IT systems specialist, married his wife in 2015 but began to suspect her of infidelity in late 2017.

This led to marital tension and quarrels, with the situation deteriorating when his then-wife took their daughter to her mother's flat without informing him.

His wife began staying at her mother's flat for two to three days at a time, and he started feeling "very depressed" as he had not expected his wife to not let him see their daughter.

On the second day of Chinese New Year in 2018, the couple had a quarrel and the man took a chopper from the kitchen as he was "depressed" and "triggered".

In April 2018, his wife and daughter moved out, leaving him alone in the flat, and his wife filed for divorce three months later.

The man began experiencing more symptoms of depression, with periodic thoughts of suicide, tearful episodes and sleep disturbances.

He became increasingly worried about his access rights to his daughter, which were subjected to periodic review and modification by the court.

His wife was granted an interim judgment of divorce in June 2019, and the man was given some visitation rights to their child.

THE DAY OF THE OFFENCE

On Jun 16 last year, the man was leaving his daughter's pre-school when he saw his wife's new boyfriend waiting to pick his wife up. 

His daughter started crying, saying that she wanted "mummy" and not "daddy". The offender was affected by what he saw, and the incident affected his state of mind on the day of the offence, said his defence lawyer John Tan. 

The next day, while preparing to return the girl to her mother, the man suddenly received a text from his wife, asking when he would arrive at her mother's flat with their daughter.

After reading the message, he felt very sad, as it dawned upon him that the time he had with his daughter was about to end, said his lawyer.

He decided to kill himself and went to the kitchen for a knife. The man went to the bedroom where the two-year-old was already sleeping. He slashed his own neck twice, before stabbing himself with another knife.

He suffocated her with a pillow, in the hope that they would "reunite" in an afterlife. 

Realising that he might have killed his daughter, the man stabbed himself again with a knife and fainted.

His wife called the police when the two-year-old was not returned to her and said that her husband was not picking up the phone.

When police officers arrived, they found the girl lying motionless on the bed, and her father lying in a pool of blood.

The man eventually recovered after being taken to hospital but his daughter could not be resuscitated.

THE MAN'S MENTAL DISORDER

A psychiatrist who examined the man found that he suffered from major depressive disorder at the time, which contributed significantly to the violence. His condition likely requires long-term monitoring and follow-up, the psychiatrist added.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Gabriel Choong asked for seven years' jail, noting that the man took a life intentionally, even though he suffered from an abnormality of mind that substantially impaired his mental responsibility.

Mental disorders are not a blanket excuse for criminal conduct, he said. While it was not a premeditated killing, it is "as tragic a case as it is cruel", said Mr Choong.

"He loved her, but ultimately (he) did not act out of love," he said. Instead, the man's actions were selfish as he wanted to maintain his desired relationship with the victim.

Defence lawyer John Tan asked instead for three years' jail, saying that there was "no premeditation whatsover", and that the man "will live the rest of his life bearing the heavy burden of the guilt of having ended his beloved daughter's life, who was the light and purpose of his life".

He had shared "a tender and loving relationship" with his daughter, whom he doted on, reading extensively on the care of young children when his wife gave birth and actively caring for the girl, added the lawyer.

The man first suffered from delusional disorder sometime in 2017, which developed into major depressive disorder, and he still suffers from it, said Mr Tan.

The prosecutor replied that the man knew what he was doing.

"A life was lost. A child was killed. Many people were affected," said Mr Choong. "The accused cannot ignore the harm inflicted on all those who knew (the victim) during the brief period of her life."

He added that the prosecution has been "as fair as we can to the defence", reducing the charge and not seeking life imprisonment, which it provided for.

Retribution and deterrence remains relevant in sentencing the man, and "we need to send a message that parents cannot kill their children", said Mr Choong.

THE MIND OF THE ACCUSED WILL BE IMPRISONED: JUDGE

Judicial Commissioner Dedar Singh Gill imposed a year's less jail than what the prosecution asked for.

He said he considered several factors including the opinion of the psychiatrist that the man would require at least two years of continuous treatment to stabilise his condition, and that there was no planning or premeditation involved.

He considered also that "the mind of the accused will be imprisoned for the rest of his life with the knowledge that he was responsible for the death of his daughter".

He rejected the three years' jail asked for by the defence, noting that it was not justified by sentencing principles nor previous cases.

For culpable homicide not amounting to murder, he could have been jailed for life and caned. Alternatively, he could be imprisoned for up to 20 years and fined or caned.

Where to get help: Samaritans of Singapore operates a 24-hour hotline at 1800 221 4444, or you can email pat@sos.org.sg. You can also find a list of international helplines here. If someone you know is at immediate risk, call 24-hour emergency medical services.

Source: CNA/ll(ta)

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